How to Best Utilize the 90-Minute Sleep Pattern

Posted by Bethaney Wallace on 26th Mar 2014

Because sleeping is an ongoing necessity, most of us have the practice down pat. There may be a few exceptions for insomniacs or colds that don’t allow us to breathe through the night, but for the most part, folks understand when and how much sleep their body needs, and how to best obtain it. After all, without solid rest, the body wouldn’t be able to function, the brain would become loopy and hazy (at least its decisions would), and before long, we would become too tired to even move.

Despite all our years of sleeping practice, however, there are still mornings when we wake tired or unrested. Even if we’ve gotten plenty of sleep – or what we think should be plenty. So what gives? Why do our bodies still feel drowsy even after getting a long night’s rest?

In theory, the body should need X amount of rest, and once that’s obtained, it should be good to go. Right? Like a battery getting recharged. But in reality, it’s a little more complicated than that; there’s more to sleep than simply plugging in and soaking up juice. But by playing to these strengths, or rather, oddities, you can obtain better rest, even in a shorter amount of time.

Here’s why:

The body sleeps in 90-minute cycles, and if we wake in the middle of one of these cycles, you’re more likely to be drowsy through the morning. In other words, the brain hasn’t yet fully completed its current cycle. And interrupting it with a wakened body means it has to skip its final steps, while still trying to adjust to thinking, moving, and getting on with the day. This lag in abilities often results in feeling tired or drowsy. Even if you’ve gotten “plenty” of sleep (as much or more hours than normal), this can make you feel unrested.

However, there’s a simple fix: waking at the end of a 90-minute cycle.

How to Plan Your Sleeps

To best reach this ratio, break the night into 90-minute intervals, counting back from when you want to wake up. If we didn’t enlist the help of alarm clocks, this is when our bodies would wake automatically, and looking for this specific gap can work to eliminate that morning tired feeling while gaining a proper amount of sleep. In some cases, this might just mean more efficient planning, not just more sleep. That way, you can better plan bed times to correlate with the least amount of drowsiness possible.

If it takes you a while to fall asleep, you might add on 20 or so extra minutes to bed time. However, even if the falling-asleep time doesn’t add up perfectly, laying still with your eyes closed has been proven to add medical benefits, such as lowered blood pressure and a “resting state” for the brain. Even though you may not be fully sleeping, you’re giving the body some much-needed relaxation time. This can also help take the pressure away from that “I have to fall asleep now” feeling, which only makes it harder to actually fall asleep.

The Importance of Taking Naps

Though naps can sometimes come with a stigma, they actually host great medical benefits. Lay down for 30 minutes or so during the afternoon, after which you can wake feeling refreshed and rested. Again, actual sleep isn’t a necessity, simply the act of closing one’s eyes and laying still for a certain amount of time. Less than 20 minutes is usually considered to be too short, while more than an hour can be too long, especially when continuing to work for the rest of the day. (Usually when one rests for this long, they do fall asleep, repeating the 90-minute cycles. And unless you can plan a 90-minute rest during the day, you often end up drowsier than before you went to sleep.)

Whether or not you prefer daytime naps, better planning your sleep patterns can provide instant results. Remember to map out your night’s rest to wake rested and refreshed.